What's Next for Portland's Animation Powerhouse Laika?

The Hillsboro HQ of films like Boxtrolls, Coraline, and ParaNorman is working on its next masterpiece.

By Marty Patail October 19, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Laika 

Micro Moves

  • 1 - Frames of footage an animator at Laika’s Hillsboro HQ shoots each time one of the puppets central to the studio’s trademark stop-motion technique is adjusted
  • 24 - Frames in a single second of film
  • 90 - Seconds of film Laika produces in a peak week of production
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Image: Laika

Behind The Faces

Creating a Laika visage

  • The character Eggs (that’s him, whole, at the top of the page), from 2014’s Boxtrolls, had a face assembled from 66 3-D-printed or hand-soldered parts.
  • Every screw, hinge, and fastener is built in-house for Laika’s library of custom parts.
  • To make a character speak or emote, animators pop out the 3-D-printed face and replace it with a different one—frame by frame—creating the illusion of movement over time.
  • Animators move the eyes and eyelids independently.

Evolution of an Art

Coraline (2009)
For Laika’s first feature film, director Henry Selick asks his team to do something no stop-motion animators have ever done: make Coraline’s hair blow in the wind. “That blew the lid off,” says creative supervisor Georgina Hayns. “After that, everything was possible.”

ParaNorman (2012)
With Coraline, Laika harnessed the power of 3-D printing to create puppet faces from computer models, opening up an entirely new palette of subtle facial expressions. For its supernatural-themed second feature, the studio introduces color 3-D printing, meaning artists no longer must hand-paint thousands of tiny faces to reflect characters’ changing emotions. Main character Norman has about 1.5 million possible facial expressions.

The Boxtrolls (2014)
The studio dreams up the “Mecha-Drill”—a massive, flame-shooting, steampunk tank that’s both the film’s central villain and the largest puppet Laika’s created. A computerized rig lifts the contraption forward while an animator adjusts each individual leg, gear, and cog.

The Next one  In December, Laika announced Kubo and the Two Strings, the directorial debut of studio CEO Travis Knight. The son of Nike cofounder Phil Knight promises “mystical origami” in a fictionalized, folkloric version of ancient Japan. The production reunites ParaNorman’s writers and—with a certain gaunt star of the first, actually good True Detective season as part of the voice cast—could bring Laika into harmony with “the McConaissance.”

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Image: Laika

The Back- Story

Will Vinton, creator of the term “claymation,” founds Will Vinton Studios in Portland.

Vinton Studios debuts The California Raisins as its best commercial.

Travis Knight graduates from Portland State University.

Phil Knight invests $5 million in Vinton Studios. Travis begins as an animation intern.

Founder Vinton is ousted from the company after an expensive foray into television.

Vinton Studios rebrands as Laika, pivots to focus on film.

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